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What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture

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Ben Horowitz, a leading venture capitalist, modern management expert, and New York Times bestselling author, combines lessons both from history and from modern organizational practice with practical and often surprising advice to help executives build cultures that can weather both good and bad times. Ben Horowitz has long been fascinated by history, and particularly by ho Ben Horowitz, a leading venture capitalist, modern management expert, and New York Times bestselling author, combines lessons both from history and from modern organizational practice with practical and often surprising advice to help executives build cultures that can weather both good and bad times. Ben Horowitz has long been fascinated by history, and particularly by how people behave differently than you’d expect. The time and circumstances in which they were raised often shapes them—yet a few leaders have managed to shape their times. In What You Do Is Who You Are, he turns his attention to a question crucial to every organization: how do you create and sustain the culture you want? To Horowitz, culture is how a company makes decisions. It is the set of assumptions employees use to resolve everyday problems: should I stay at the Red Roof Inn, or the Four Seasons? Should we discuss the color of this product for five minutes or thirty hours? If culture is not purposeful, it will be an accident or a mistake. What You Do Is Who You Are explains how to make your culture purposeful by spotlighting four models of leadership and culture-building—the leader of the only successful slave revolt, Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture; the Samurai, who ruled Japan for seven hundred years and shaped modern Japanese culture; Genghis Khan, who built the world’s largest empire; and Shaka Senghor, a man convicted of murder who ran the most formidable prison gang in the yard and ultimately transformed prison culture. Horowitz connects these leadership examples to modern case-studies, including how Louverture’s cultural techniques were applied (or should have been) by Reed Hastings at Netflix, Travis Kalanick at Uber, and Hillary Clinton, and how Genghis Khan’s vision of cultural inclusiveness has parallels in the work of Don Thompson, the first African-American CEO of McDonalds, and of Maggie Wilderotter, the CEO who led Frontier Communications. Horowitz then offers guidance to help any company understand its own strategy and build a successful culture. What You Do Is Who You Are is a journey through culture, from ancient to modern. Along the way, it answers a question fundamental to any organization: who are we? How do people talk about us when we’re not around? How do we treat our customers? Are we there for people in a pinch? Can we be trusted? Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say in company-wide meeting. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe. Who you are is what you do. This book aims to help you do the things you need to become the kind of leader you want to be—and others want to follow.


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Ben Horowitz, a leading venture capitalist, modern management expert, and New York Times bestselling author, combines lessons both from history and from modern organizational practice with practical and often surprising advice to help executives build cultures that can weather both good and bad times. Ben Horowitz has long been fascinated by history, and particularly by ho Ben Horowitz, a leading venture capitalist, modern management expert, and New York Times bestselling author, combines lessons both from history and from modern organizational practice with practical and often surprising advice to help executives build cultures that can weather both good and bad times. Ben Horowitz has long been fascinated by history, and particularly by how people behave differently than you’d expect. The time and circumstances in which they were raised often shapes them—yet a few leaders have managed to shape their times. In What You Do Is Who You Are, he turns his attention to a question crucial to every organization: how do you create and sustain the culture you want? To Horowitz, culture is how a company makes decisions. It is the set of assumptions employees use to resolve everyday problems: should I stay at the Red Roof Inn, or the Four Seasons? Should we discuss the color of this product for five minutes or thirty hours? If culture is not purposeful, it will be an accident or a mistake. What You Do Is Who You Are explains how to make your culture purposeful by spotlighting four models of leadership and culture-building—the leader of the only successful slave revolt, Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture; the Samurai, who ruled Japan for seven hundred years and shaped modern Japanese culture; Genghis Khan, who built the world’s largest empire; and Shaka Senghor, a man convicted of murder who ran the most formidable prison gang in the yard and ultimately transformed prison culture. Horowitz connects these leadership examples to modern case-studies, including how Louverture’s cultural techniques were applied (or should have been) by Reed Hastings at Netflix, Travis Kalanick at Uber, and Hillary Clinton, and how Genghis Khan’s vision of cultural inclusiveness has parallels in the work of Don Thompson, the first African-American CEO of McDonalds, and of Maggie Wilderotter, the CEO who led Frontier Communications. Horowitz then offers guidance to help any company understand its own strategy and build a successful culture. What You Do Is Who You Are is a journey through culture, from ancient to modern. Along the way, it answers a question fundamental to any organization: who are we? How do people talk about us when we’re not around? How do we treat our customers? Are we there for people in a pinch? Can we be trusted? Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say in company-wide meeting. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe. Who you are is what you do. This book aims to help you do the things you need to become the kind of leader you want to be—and others want to follow.

30 review for What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julia Gaffield

    Lessons in Leadership Conservatism In What You Do Is Who You Are, venture-capitalist and NYT best-selling author, Ben Horowitz, turns to history to teach CEOs and business leaders how they can shape and change the cultures of their companies. His first of four models is Toussaint Louverture, a military and political leader in the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). In the eighteenth century, sugar took over the economy of the western hemisphere and the heart of this exploitative system was France’s C Lessons in Leadership Conservatism In What You Do Is Who You Are, venture-capitalist and NYT best-selling author, Ben Horowitz, turns to history to teach CEOs and business leaders how they can shape and change the cultures of their companies. His first of four models is Toussaint Louverture, a military and political leader in the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). In the eighteenth century, sugar took over the economy of the western hemisphere and the heart of this exploitative system was France’s Caribbean colony, Saint-Domingue (modern day Haiti). Occupying the western third of the second largest island in the Caribbean, the French violently forced enslaved Africans to plant, harvest, and process sugar cane. Enslaved people resisted this oppressive system whenever they could, but punishments were severe and painful, often life-ending. In 1789, when France was in revolutionary turmoil, the disenfranchised free people of color in the Caribbean began breaking down the rigid hierarchy of the 18th century and called for equal rights as free Frenchmen. Enslaved people seized this opportunity to save themselves and eventually to overthrow the entire wretched system—this event has come to be known as the Haitian Revolution. Horowitz is drawn to the Haitian Revolution because “the stamping out of slavery is one of humanity’s great stories. And the best story within that story is the Haitian Revolution.” Horowitz argues that Toussaint Louverture’s leadership in the Haitian Revolution demonstrates that revolutionary cultural change is possible, even in the most extreme circumstances. Horowitz draws seven business lessons from Toussaint Louverture’s strategy: keep what works, create shocking rules, dress for success, incorporate outside leadership, make decisions that demonstrate cultural priorities, walk the talk, and make ethics explicit. He then praises present-day business leaders who demonstrate these priorities. The takeaway for leaders is that you can “make your own culture do what you want it to,” if you apply these lessons. The bad news is that Horowitz’s analysis of the revolutionary change in Haiti is limited by his (mis)understanding of the lives of the enslaved people in colonial Haiti. “Slavery chokes the development of culture,” he argues, “by dehumanizing its subjects.” That was indeed the intent in many slavery societies, but enslaved people have never been culture-less. What Horowitz frames as revolutionary change is instead a cherry-picking of Louverture’s policies that, in fact, (in a modified version) maintained the status quo. By denying the humanity of enslaved men and women, Horowitz then seeks to understand how Toussaint Louverture “reprogrammed slave culture.” In doing so, Horowitz taps into 19th century racist civilization discourse by arguing that Louverture “elevated their culture” to the level of French citizens. According to Horowitz, Louverture had successfully “transform[ed] slave culture into one respected around the world.” The most grotesque example in the chapter “Toussaint Louverture Applied,” is Horowitz’s championing of the unique company culture at Amazon today that emphasizes “frugality.” Horowitz connects this with the lesson from Louverture that it’s important to create “shocking rules.” The shocking rule at Amazon is that no one is allowed to use a PowerPoint presentation. Horowitz doesn’t analyze the diplomatic strategy or context of Louverture’s leadership, and neither does he discuss the effects of Amazon’s obsessiveness with frugality that set the stage for such horrific working conditions that one worker said created an “existential [****]hole.” By transcending time and space and by distorting Louverture’s story so thoroughly, Horowitz is able to use the Haitian Revolution to champion a company known now for labor and human rights abuses for the benefit of the predatory leadership. This is the story you’d tell of the Haitian Revolution is you wanted to void it of its most revolutionary characteristics. In other words, Horowitz actually teaches about leadership conservatism in the face of popular transformations. The good news is that the premise of Horowitz’s book is commendable; the past can and should suggest promising ways to question and shape the present. What, then, can we learn from the Haitian Revolution to help us address 21st century questions of leadership and company culture? CEOs would do well to learn about the rank-and-file soldiers of the Haitian Revolution and the men and women who escaped into the woods to avoid French and Haitian rule. Leaders today could study the field workers who constantly resisted being forced back onto the plantations that they had just burned to the ground. These men and women first changed the culture of the colony and then shaped that of the new country by relentlessly fighting for their vision of freedom—most explicitly seen in the “lakou” (the yard), a community-based social, familial, and economic way of life centered on subsistence farming and personal and social sovereignty. The evidence of the Haitian Revolution suggests that leading cultural change depends on an integrated “top down” and “ground up” strategy that understands the existing culture rather than trying to “reprogram” it. I would recommend that business leaders instead read books by Laurent Dubois, Jean Casimir, Marlene Daut, Hank Gonzalez, Carolyn Fick, Jean Fouchard, and other historians of the Haitian Revolution and the early independence period. *** Julia Gaffield is associate professor of history at Georgia State University. She is author of Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution (UNC press 2015) and editor of The Haitian Declaration of Independence: Creation, Context, and Legacy (UVA Press 2016).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kair Käsper

    After The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, this book was a disappointment. Here’s a few reasons: First - a large portion of this book could have been written by anyone. For reasons unclear, Horowitz brings examples mostly not from his own experience, but from history. Let’s remind ourselves that Horowitz is not a historian and it feels a lot like he has interpreted the stories, characters and their decisions to fit the points he’s trying to make. L After The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, this book was a disappointment. Here’s a few reasons: First - a large portion of this book could have been written by anyone. For reasons unclear, Horowitz brings examples mostly not from his own experience, but from history. Let’s remind ourselves that Horowitz is not a historian and it feels a lot like he has interpreted the stories, characters and their decisions to fit the points he’s trying to make. Like the example with Toussaint Louverture - labeling this guy as a “culture genius” when his actions were not motivated by some deeper values, but mostly by what strategically worked the best to achieve his goals, is a little far-fetched. Same goes for a lot of the other examples - mostly these “acts of culture” seem to have been just strategic decisions, not driven by some Gandhi-like fundamental beliefs. He goes as far to point this out himself as well - that neither Louverture or Genghis Khan followed their own rules. That’s the other thing - there’s a lot of contradictions in this book. You have to lead by example, but your own examples didn’t? You have to make sacrifices to keep the culture, but when Mark Cranney is an as*hole, the culture needs to adapt and Mark gets an office? “This some bul*shit” - many rappers. At times it feels this book just aims to look cool - like the thing about making weird rules in your company so people would actually follow them. Or the bit with this magical job interview: “What would you do if I punched you in the face right now?” “Are you testing my intelligence or my courage?” “Both” “You better knock me out” “You’re hired” …Horowitz claims that this was all that was required to make sure Mark Cranney was a culture fit. Cool story bro, but… unless you’re completely winging it or telling this at a bar to impress some friends, it’s just plain bad advice. After all this whining I have to say there were some solid parts in there as well, like the story about how the Sony-deal was turned down in order to not mess up the future, but mostly it was just same old, same old. The Amazon doors, the Apple story, the “go-fast-and-break-things” and basic principles that you’ve heard a thousand times before. All that said, Horowitz's next book will still be on my reading list. Just hoping it will be based more on his own stories.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Frank Chen

    I've worked in Ben Horowitz designed cultures for decades (Netscape, Loudcloud, Opsware, Andreessen Horowitz). So it was fun & fascinating to go behind-the-scenes to understand his detailed thinking behind some of the decisions he made. Like "Hard Things About Hard Things", this book is practical and philosophical at the same time. Culture is hard to design, it takes constant work to design and reinforce, it's subtle, it needs to be refreshed constantly. It's also often overlooked as startup CEO I've worked in Ben Horowitz designed cultures for decades (Netscape, Loudcloud, Opsware, Andreessen Horowitz). So it was fun & fascinating to go behind-the-scenes to understand his detailed thinking behind some of the decisions he made. Like "Hard Things About Hard Things", this book is practical and philosophical at the same time. Culture is hard to design, it takes constant work to design and reinforce, it's subtle, it needs to be refreshed constantly. It's also often overlooked as startup CEOs often have their arms full trying to find product/market fit or raise the next round of financing or hire the next set of executives. But as Peter Drucker famously observed, "culture eats strategy for breakfast", so it's critical to design one explicitly. Bonus: find out how Ben both agrees and disagrees with Drucker's observation.

  4. 4 out of 5

    J.Aleksandr Wootton

    Unexpected and delightful. Possibly the least dry and simultaneously most practical book on organizational culture currently on the market. Using a blend of case studies from history and present-day interviews, Horowitz offers insight and suggestions on purposeful actions leaders can take, actions proven to work (or fail!) in a variety of contexts, from feudal Japan to modern-day McDonalds, from revolutionary Haiti to major tech companies like Netflix, Uber, Apple, and Intel. In my top three wor Unexpected and delightful. Possibly the least dry and simultaneously most practical book on organizational culture currently on the market. Using a blend of case studies from history and present-day interviews, Horowitz offers insight and suggestions on purposeful actions leaders can take, actions proven to work (or fail!) in a variety of contexts, from feudal Japan to modern-day McDonalds, from revolutionary Haiti to major tech companies like Netflix, Uber, Apple, and Intel. In my top three work-related reads to date. For a deeper glimpse into the content, see this blog post by my company's book club.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carl Rannaberg

    It was not as good as a book as Hard Things About Hard Things. But it reminded about many principles of how to create a culture in an organization. For example, your culture is what you tolerate. When you tolerate repeated bad behavior then you can expect it happening more often and spread all over you organization. Also, your culture is how your actions are interpreted, not what your intentions are. This makes a good point about thinking about how your actions are percieved and not what you are It was not as good as a book as Hard Things About Hard Things. But it reminded about many principles of how to create a culture in an organization. For example, your culture is what you tolerate. When you tolerate repeated bad behavior then you can expect it happening more often and spread all over you organization. Also, your culture is how your actions are interpreted, not what your intentions are. This makes a good point about thinking about how your actions are percieved and not what you are trying to do. As the saying goes: road to hell is paved with good intentions. I wonder how many job interviews in the future contain a question “what would you do if I punched you in the face?” inspired by this book? It’s definitely more than zero.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Greg Bae

    In short summary: What you say means far less than what you do. Culture begins with deciding what you value most. Then you must help everyone in your organization to get there. Creating culture is being a leader. Ben Horowitz writes in an interesting style that is engaging and broad in its examinations of various unexpected sources of culture cultures, like bushido samurai and Haitian slave rebellion. The Shaka Senghor chapter was so good, especially with the Audible narrator. At times I forgot th In short summary: What you say means far less than what you do. Culture begins with deciding what you value most. Then you must help everyone in your organization to get there. Creating culture is being a leader. Ben Horowitz writes in an interesting style that is engaging and broad in its examinations of various unexpected sources of culture cultures, like bushido samurai and Haitian slave rebellion. The Shaka Senghor chapter was so good, especially with the Audible narrator. At times I forgot that it as business book because the lessons are deep and philosophical. Hooray for thinkers like BHororwitz, A16Z is lucky to have him.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Philip Joubert

    I've read dozens of management books and Ben Horowitz's latest book is unique among them. He writes in a real, no-bullshit way about the messy real-life situations that nobody else talks about. As an entrepreneur reading this book I felt both deeply understood by him and challenged in a profound way. Ben leads with examples far removed from the tech world, using Toussaint L'Ouverture (Haitian Revolution), Genghis Khan, Shaka Senghor (prison gang leader) and the Sumurai. The decision to use those I've read dozens of management books and Ben Horowitz's latest book is unique among them. He writes in a real, no-bullshit way about the messy real-life situations that nobody else talks about. As an entrepreneur reading this book I felt both deeply understood by him and challenged in a profound way. Ben leads with examples far removed from the tech world, using Toussaint L'Ouverture (Haitian Revolution), Genghis Khan, Shaka Senghor (prison gang leader) and the Sumurai. The decision to use those examples highlights the universality of culture building and is also just pretty damn interesting. My favourite idea from the book was about creating shocking rules that serve to highlight an aspect of the culture. For instance, Facebook's "Move fast and break things" highlights that the speed of innovation is the most important aspect of their culture. The main point of the book is that actions, as opposed to values, are how you build a culture. It's worth noting that the book is far from perfect and actually feels slightly unpolished in parts, but it's also the only book I've read that provides real insights into building cultures. So despite some shortcomings I highly recommend this book to all leaders.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jacek Bartczak

    "I don't how people behave in this company" - if you have ever said that it means that book is for you. I've never had a pleasure to meet such tangible content about the company's culture. I guess there are CEOs / managers who won't like it - books included many suggestions about how a leader's actions and consequence determine how employees approach to the company look like. "The hard thing..." was more spectacular, but that book is still a must-read for anyone who cares how his teammates behave "I don't how people behave in this company" - if you have ever said that it means that book is for you. I've never had a pleasure to meet such tangible content about the company's culture. I guess there are CEOs / managers who won't like it - books included many suggestions about how a leader's actions and consequence determine how employees approach to the company look like. "The hard thing..." was more spectacular, but that book is still a must-read for anyone who cares how his teammates behave at work.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    What a mess. What a waste of time. He berated Hillary Clinton for taking responsibility for things that weren’t enticing her control and lauds Mary Barra, who spent 38 years in multiple departments but had no idea people died for over ten years due to a Design defect, threw a few engineers under the bus and got millions, for her dress code. Praises managers who fire good workers for giving them good references. Genghis Khan? This book is full of messed up ideas and it’s horrifying to know that e What a mess. What a waste of time. He berated Hillary Clinton for taking responsibility for things that weren’t enticing her control and lauds Mary Barra, who spent 38 years in multiple departments but had no idea people died for over ten years due to a Design defect, threw a few engineers under the bus and got millions, for her dress code. Praises managers who fire good workers for giving them good references. Genghis Khan? This book is full of messed up ideas and it’s horrifying to know that executives think in such illogical and heartless ways. Skip it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Faye Zheng

    (Read for book club at work) Trade-offs: On the one hand, Horowitz is not a historian and the way he chose to structure the book was bizarre. On the other, there were enough good nuggets of food for thought (scattered throughout but mostly in last 3 chapters) that it made for a healthy book club discussion with colleagues.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian Gebski

    I respect BH as a very smart person with incredible experience. Even people who have so much to share don't have to be great in sharing - fortunately BH is. I don't like his interviews, I find some of his references (especially hip-hop song citations) annoying, but in the end - both his books ("The hard things ..." & "What you do ...") are absolutely stellar - I can only recommend them. "What you do ..." is a book about culture. Defining it (up to the level it's possible ...), cultivating it, thr I respect BH as a very smart person with incredible experience. Even people who have so much to share don't have to be great in sharing - fortunately BH is. I don't like his interviews, I find some of his references (especially hip-hop song citations) annoying, but in the end - both his books ("The hard things ..." & "What you do ...") are absolutely stellar - I can only recommend them. "What you do ..." is a book about culture. Defining it (up to the level it's possible ...), cultivating it, threats to the culture, etc. It's not a dry read - BH uses few selected examples (not really the most trivial ones - I'd say ...) to illustrate the concepts. It was a short read, but definitely worth it - my favorite part (and an A-HA moment) was about the difference between acting in the interest of the culture and of a tribe. Recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sven Kirsimäe

    A must-read for anyone interested in how company or group cultures are created. Nice set of examples, easy read/listen. Long story short: list of values or listing values does not create culture. What happens and what is done, especially when you're outside of the room, is the culture and that is mostly build based on "leading by example" not by the wishful thinking and promotion of "these are our values" lists. For example, if we ask people to stay focused in the meetings and fail ourselves it mi A must-read for anyone interested in how company or group cultures are created. Nice set of examples, easy read/listen. Long story short: list of values or listing values does not create culture. What happens and what is done, especially when you're outside of the room, is the culture and that is mostly build based on "leading by example" not by the wishful thinking and promotion of "these are our values" lists. For example, if we ask people to stay focused in the meetings and fail ourselves it might need a single case for others to drop to follow; or if we ask people to not open our laptops on the meetings and fail ourselves it might need a single case for others to drop to follow; or if we ask people not to be late and fail ourselves it might need a single case for others to drop to follow. It is as easy as that. So, “do as I do, not as I say” and “culture is what others say when you’re not in the room”. Many other thoughts in the book. Friendly hint: the last chapters are more down to earth if you feel it is getting too far into the past in the beginning.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jaana

    I had a feeling that I would like the book and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the fact that it wasn’t just thoughts and experiences from the author but it was backed and illustrated with historical stories and facts about what culture is and how it impacts where the group with the culture gets to. The book definitely made me think about our company’s values, what works, what doesn’t, why and how really good values look like. One thing I hadn’t thought about before is the idea that company values I had a feeling that I would like the book and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the fact that it wasn’t just thoughts and experiences from the author but it was backed and illustrated with historical stories and facts about what culture is and how it impacts where the group with the culture gets to. The book definitely made me think about our company’s values, what works, what doesn’t, why and how really good values look like. One thing I hadn’t thought about before is the idea that company values don’t necessarily need to stay the same indefinitely but can and maybe even should change over time. The book makes a pretty good case for it and has some good examples to back it up. One thing to remember though is that it needs to be conscious and communicated out. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a role model or a leader for anyone.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Moh. Nasiri

    A journey through "culture", from ancient to modern. فرهنگ سازمانی Never underestimate the importance of a business’s culture. Examples past and present show that culture should be much more than just a list of values pinned to the wall: it should be a set of virtues that underpins everything your business does. That’s because it’s our actions – what we do, not what we say or feel – that define who we are. A journey through "culture", from ancient to modern. فرهنگ سازمانی Never underestimate the importance of a business’s culture. Examples past and present show that culture should be much more than just a list of values pinned to the wall: it should be a set of virtues that underpins everything your business does. That’s because it’s our actions – what we do, not what we say or feel – that define who we are.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Carlevato

    Worth reading but below expectations.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michał Korba

    Great book about building Culture in your Organization.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tõnu Vahtra

    The good thing about this book are the direct intriguing questions that Horowitz makes you ask, in that matter the book is similar to his other book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Moving forward: "If you cannot get a decision from lower levels come directly to me and I'll promise to get back to you within a week" ->things immediately started moving in the organization. “I hear you and, quite frankly, I agree with you, but I was overruled by the powers that be.” This is absolutely toxic to the The good thing about this book are the direct intriguing questions that Horowitz makes you ask, in that matter the book is similar to his other book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Moving forward: "If you cannot get a decision from lower levels come directly to me and I'll promise to get back to you within a week" ->things immediately started moving in the organization. “I hear you and, quite frankly, I agree with you, but I was overruled by the powers that be.” This is absolutely toxic to the culture. Everyone on the team will feel marginalized because they work for someone who’s powerless. This makes them one level less than powerless.” Instead agree to disagree but always commit to support to the decision. “I was definitely zero-tolerance on managers who undermined decisions, because that led to cultural chaos.” The empowerment test: how far down the hierarchy can a particular decision be made? CEO question: "If you were me, what would you change in the company"? “Culture is not like a mission statement; you can’t just set it up and have it last forever. There’s a saying in the military that if you see something below standard and do nothing, then you’ve set a new standard. This is also true of culture—if you see something off-culture and ignore it, you’ve created a new culture.” “Because your culture is how your company makes decisions when you’re not there. It’s the set of assumptions your employees use to resolve the problems they face every day. It’s how they behave when no one is looking. If you don’t methodically set your culture, then two-thirds of it will end up being accidental, and the rest will be a mistake.” “Your employees will test you on your cultural virtues, either accidentally or on purpose, so before you put one into your company, ask yourself, “Am I willing to pass the test on this?” Interview tips: “I began looking for these four: Smart. It doesn’t mean high IQ (although that’s great), it means disposed toward learning. If there’s a best practice anywhere, adopt it. We want to turn as much as possible into a routine so we can focus on the few things that require human intelligence and creativity. A good interview question for this is: “Tell me about the last significant thing you learned about how to do your job better.” Or you might ask a candidate: “What’s something that you’ve automated? What’s a process you’ve had to tear down at a company?” Humble. I don’t mean meek or unambitious, I mean being humble in the way that Steph Curry is humble. If you’re humble, people want you to succeed. If you’re selfish, they want you to fail. It also gives you the capacity for self-awareness, so you can actually learn and be smart. Humility is foundational like that. It is also essential for the kind of collaboration we want at Slack. Hardworking. It does not mean long hours. You can go home and take care of your family, but when you’re here, you’re disciplined, professional, and focused. You should also be competitive, determined, resourceful, resilient, and gritty. Take this job as an opportunity to do the best work of your life. Collaborative. It’s not submissive, not deferential—in fact it’s kind of the opposite. In our culture, being collaborative means providing leadership from everywhere. I’m taking responsibility for the health of this meeting. If there’s a lack of trust, I’m going to address that. If the goals are unclear, I’m going to deal with that. We’re all interested in getting better and everyone should take responsibility for that. If everyone’s collaborative in that sense, the responsibility for team performance is shared. Collaborative people know that success is limited by the worst performers, so they are either going to elevate them or have a serious conversation. This one is easy to corroborate with references, and in an interview you can ask, “Tell me about a situation in your last company where something was substandard and you helped to fix it.”

  18. 5 out of 5

    Maciek Wilczyński

    This time, Ben Horowitz aimed to explain company culture. Again, his thoughts are crystal clear and profound as they're based on his experience, rather than scientific research. I buy it. His book is written in a very specific, yet interesting format. There is a visible storytelling approach: 1) Do you know the story about "some known, yet not common knowledge historical fact"? 2) Here is what happened in this story! 3) There is more! We can learn something from it 4) Case study of XX/XXI century This time, Ben Horowitz aimed to explain company culture. Again, his thoughts are crystal clear and profound as they're based on his experience, rather than scientific research. I buy it. His book is written in a very specific, yet interesting format. There is a visible storytelling approach: 1) Do you know the story about "some known, yet not common knowledge historical fact"? 2) Here is what happened in this story! 3) There is more! We can learn something from it 4) Case study of XX/XXI century companies, e.g. Uber/Lyft, Intel, IBM, Slack, Stripe, Facebook, Google, Apple (part of them from A16Z portfolio) 5) How we can apply it to our own company. Overall, Horowitz based it's story on few cherry-picked historical figures or themes: Toussaint Louverture (Haitan Revolution Leader), Shaka Senghor (ex-convict, gang leader), Genghis Khan, Samurais and their code. It's a nice blend of leitmotives and facts, flavored with intelligent and rational thoughts of VC/Silicon Valley mogul. Liked it a lot.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    This is the most in depth book about culture I've found. But it's not as good as his other book. I do like the thesis: culture is actions not beliefs so you have to keep readjusting. "One difficult in enforcing integrity is that it's a concept without boundaries. You can't pat yourself on the back for treating your employees ethically if you're simultaneously lying to your customers because your employees will pick up on the discrepancy and start lying to each other. The behaviors must be univers This is the most in depth book about culture I've found. But it's not as good as his other book. I do like the thesis: culture is actions not beliefs so you have to keep readjusting. "One difficult in enforcing integrity is that it's a concept without boundaries. You can't pat yourself on the back for treating your employees ethically if you're simultaneously lying to your customers because your employees will pick up on the discrepancy and start lying to each other. The behaviors must be universal. You have to live up to them in every context." Rules for writing a rule: shocking enough for people to ask why. The answer clearly explains concept and impact. Rule should be encountered daily. "If you weren't selling a customer on your product then the customer was selling you on why she wasn't going to buy it." "The challenge wasn't getting into a new business -...that's b-school 101. The challenge was getting into a new business with the intention of making it the business." "That's the nature of culture. It's not a single decision. It's a code that manifest itself as a vast set of actions taken over time. No one person makes or takes all these actions. Cultural design is way to program the actions of an organization. But, like computer programs, every culture has bugs. And cultures are significantly more difficult to debug than programs." "In the US today get on Twitter and decry the lack of empathy in our country and then we wonder why empathy keeps diminishing. A culture is not the sum of its outrage. It's a set of actions." "Anytime you decide one group is inherently good or bad, regardless of their behavior, you program dishonesty into your organization." "Culture is weird like that. Because it's a set of actions, not of beliefs it almost never adds up exactly as you intended. This is why it's not a set it and forget it endeavor. You must constantly examine and reshape your culture or it won't be your culture at all." "Many people believe... that employees only operate within a given corporate culture while they're at the office. The truth is that what people do at the office - where they spend most of their waking hours- becomes who they are. Office culture is highly infectious." "The relevant question is 'What must employees do to survive and succeed at your organization? What behaviors get them included in or excluded from the powerbase? What gets them ahead?'" Ask new employees after first week: "Make sure you ask them for the bad stuff, the practices or assumptions that made them wary or uncomfortable. Ask them what's different in other places they've worked... then ask them for advice. "if you were me, how would you improve the culture based on your first week here. What would you try to enhance?" "To solidify this new meritocracy he made it a capital offense for his family members to become a Khan or leader without being elected to the post." (Genghis Khan) "In our culture being collaborative means providing leadership from everywhere." "Every time an employee works hard to make a change or to propose a new idea only to be met with bureaucracy, indecision, or apathy, the culture suffers." "Many managers want to attend executive staff meetings as it makes them feel needed and it puts them in the know. I made use of this desire by setting a price of admission to the meeting: you had to fess up to at least one thing that was on fire. I'd say "I know with great certainty that there are things that are completely broken in our company. And I wanna know what they are. If you don't know what they are then you are of no use to me in this meeting.'"

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Lu

    Worthy followup to "the hard thing about hard things" that still is one of the 5 best leadership books I've ever read. Where Ben Horowitz dug deeply into the challenge of management, leadership, and decision making in his last book, he digs deeply into what comprises a company culture in this one. Featuring examples of Touissant Louverture converting slave culture to military culture in the only successful slave revolt; Samurai Bushido culture and its lasting impact on Japanese culture across 10 Worthy followup to "the hard thing about hard things" that still is one of the 5 best leadership books I've ever read. Where Ben Horowitz dug deeply into the challenge of management, leadership, and decision making in his last book, he digs deeply into what comprises a company culture in this one. Featuring examples of Touissant Louverture converting slave culture to military culture in the only successful slave revolt; Samurai Bushido culture and its lasting impact on Japanese culture across 10 generations as so distinct in Asia; Shaka Sengkor converting a small prison gang into an influential tribe that transcended the lives of men long after they were released; and Genghis Khan who rose to unite tribes across the steppes to dominate the largest empire in history. Many salient lessons about what culture and cannot do, and how to be intentional about setting culture (similar lessons to Rockefeller Habits). "Revel in being discarded, or having all your energies exhausted in vain; only those who have endured hardship will be of use. Samurai who have never erred before will never have what it takes." - Hagakure [p10] How many of the following questions can be resolved by turning to your corporate goals or mission statement? [p10] - Is that phone call so important I need to return it today, or can it wait till tomorrow? - Can I ask for a raise before my annual review? - Is the quality of this document good enough or should I keep working on it? - Do I have to be on time for that meeting? - Should I stay at the Four Seasons or the Red Roof Inn? - When I negotiate this contract, what's more important: the price or the partnership? - Should I point out what my peers do wrong or what they do right? - Should I go home at 5pm or 8pm? - How hard do I need to study the competition? - Should we discuss the color of this new product for five minutes or thirty hours? - If I know something is badly broken in the company, should I say something? Whom should I tell? - Is winning more important than ethics? "In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust" [p31] Touissant Louverture - converting slave culture to military culture. Create a shocking rule so that it's memorable: married officers may not have concubines, from a culture where raping and pillaging was the norm. Sends a message "Because in this army, nothing is more important than your word. If we can't trust you to keep your word to your wife, we definitely can't trust you to keep your word to us." [p31] Create shocking rules [p42] - Memorable: if people forget the rule, they forget the culture - Must raise the question why: must be so bizarre that people are compelled to ask if you're serious - Cultural impact must be straightforward: Why must be clear - People must encounter the rule almost daily - must be relevant Samurai code rested on 8 virtues: rectitude (justice), courage, honor, loyalty, benevolence, politeness, self-control, veracity (sincerity) [p72] Bushido lays out code very explicitly. Not just do the right thing, but provide a story example of what it means to do the right thing. If someone stores 100 gold pieces at your house then dies, what to do if it's your friend (noble), an acquaintance others know (shame that others might find out), or even a stranger (fear of legal recourse). "The story makes no ultimate distinction between doing right for 'the right reasons' or out of shame or guilt. Why you do right is not important. Doing right is all that counts. But the people who created the code understood that doing right is harder in some circumstances than others, so they provided case studies." [p77] Stories and sayings that define cultures - Diane Greene rule at VMWare - partnerships should be 49/51 [p43] - John Morgridge at Cisco from 1988-1995 - if you cannot see your car from your hotel room, then you are paying too much [p79] - Jim Barksdale at Netscape in 1995 - in response to "disagree and commit": if you see a snake, kill the snake . Don't play with dead snakes. All opportunities start out looking like snakes. [p80] How does Oprah ask people really aggressive questions, and instead of getting defensive they open up and start crying? "Well, before I interview anyone I start by asking what their intentions are and I say 'I will help you get those intentions, but you have to trust me.'" Shaka Senghor - intention to let people know that you shouldn't be defined by the very worst thing that you have ever done in your life. Said he hit the streets at age 14 - then asked about getting a straight A report card at age 9 then mom threw a pot at him. He really hit the streets at age 9. [p81] Genghis Khan going from orphaned outcast to the most powerful ruler ever. Created a remarkably stable culture by founding it on 3 principles: meritocracy, loyalty, and inclusion. At a time when birthright was what mattered, he rose to the top by stellar strategy, and wanted to reward others with capability regardless of meritocracy. Created immense loyalty based on embracing those he defeated to his team rather than pillaging them all. Was inherently multicultural, with animists, muslims, christians, and buddhists all on his council. [p108] Ben's approach to diversity. "If you only listen to music from one race then you probably do not understand music. If you only hire talented people from one race or gender, then you probably do not understand talent." [p125] Culture and strategy do not compete. Neither eats the other. To be effective they must cohere. Apple culture about design and focus was right for Steve Jobs who micromanaged, but would have failed at Google. Google egalitarian research culture right for Larry and Sergei, but would have failed at Netflix. Netflix culture of meritocracy right for Reed Hastings but would have failed at Amazon. Amazon cost and discipline culture right for Amazon but would have failed at Apple. No good CEO or CFO, only the right CEO or CFO for a specific position at a specific company in a specific industry at a specific point in time [p132] Virtues are your actions. Values are your beliefs. Culture is based on virtues - some apply at the company level (best idea wins regardless of rank, obsessive about customers). Others need to be at subcultures (dress casually is right for eng but not sales, we only care about results right for sales but maybe not eng or CS) [p134] Choosing to make decisions based on culture or values may not make you successful. Todd McKinnon at Okta - decided to follow the value of integrity. Needed a contract with Sony, but could not deliver a feature in time. Chose not to lie. Ended up getting funding that kept the company alive and employees saw that this value was real. But if he didn't get funded, that could also have been the end of the company. Cannot judge this action based on the result; other CEO's who made the same choice but failed are never remembered for their courage. Key lesson of values - be sure to ask yourself, am I willing to pass the test on this? [p141] Sun Tzu example of living up to values - executed concubines who he brought in for a mock exercise to show the king the need for obedience. Not just a hypothetical example. "The king is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds" - Sun Tzu [p150]

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bailey L.

    I liked this book quite a bit, in the same sort of way I liked his first book. It has a lot in it that is helpful regardless of what kind of company you are in, but some of his material is really specific only to SV or tech companies. Stories about specific values statements helped me to understand better what it looks like to be clear about what the culture is as a leader. The story below is one such example from the book: 'So he came up with a pithy axiom: “If you cannot see your car from your I liked this book quite a bit, in the same sort of way I liked his first book. It has a lot in it that is helpful regardless of what kind of company you are in, but some of his material is really specific only to SV or tech companies. Stories about specific values statements helped me to understand better what it looks like to be clear about what the culture is as a leader. The story below is one such example from the book: 'So he came up with a pithy axiom: “If you cannot see your car from your hotel room, then you are paying too much.” When his top executives heard that, they understood that business-class tickets and fancy dinners were out of the question. More subtly—but even more crucially—they understood that the point of business travel was to meet customer needs, not to enjoy perks.' Also, there were a lot of helpful ideas in the book, such as these interview questions that get at Patrick Lencioni's Ideal Team Player characteristics: “Tell me about the last significant thing you learned about how to do your job better.” “What’s something that you’ve automated? What’s a process you’ve had to tear down at a company?” “Tell me about a situation in your last company where something was substandard and you helped to fix it.” One of the most helpful ideas from his first book was the idea that if you're a peacetime CEO, you will not be successful as a wartime CEO. He came back to this idea and built on it in this book. In times such as these, we need wartime CEOs across sectors and are finding there are a lot of peacetime CEOs who don't know how to run a company in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest. This language helps us to understand we can probably expect some current peacetime CEOs to fail in the coming months/years as we continue to grapple with COVID-19. P.S. It did take me a while to get going in this book, but once I was two chapters in, I flew through it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Roger Grobler

    Brilliantly practical It is very hard to write about culture. There are many ways of achieving the same thing, and many very different cultures that will work, depending on the leader and the people inside the business. So to write about culture generally is very hard, but Ben brilliantly achieved this. It is sometimes dangerous to retrospectively fit a story to the past to make it seem plausible. Narrative fallacy is the technical term for it. Ben does use stories to illustrates principles, and Brilliantly practical It is very hard to write about culture. There are many ways of achieving the same thing, and many very different cultures that will work, depending on the leader and the people inside the business. So to write about culture generally is very hard, but Ben brilliantly achieved this. It is sometimes dangerous to retrospectively fit a story to the past to make it seem plausible. Narrative fallacy is the technical term for it. Ben does use stories to illustrates principles, and whether it is accurate or not is not really the point. It is refreshing to read non-conventional stories to illustrate culture, and I suspect the stories will also stand the test of time better (unlike Good to Great, where the examples used were undone by the companies themselves post the book). Finally, I loved the (sometimes profane) rap lyrics at the start of every chapter. I could not always understand what the relevance was, but that does not really matter.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Angad Singh

    This book could have been a blog post and did not need all the long-winded examples that Ben was trying to use to get the message across. I picked this up because Ben's first book was a gem. I am usually cautious of such books which try and deliver a message by focusing 80% of the time on examples (and over-glorifying the person or company in the example). Additionally, some of the statements and messages were over-simplifications, while attributing success to "one" reason. Regardless, there were s This book could have been a blog post and did not need all the long-winded examples that Ben was trying to use to get the message across. I picked this up because Ben's first book was a gem. I am usually cautious of such books which try and deliver a message by focusing 80% of the time on examples (and over-glorifying the person or company in the example). Additionally, some of the statements and messages were over-simplifications, while attributing success to "one" reason. Regardless, there were some good messages (one which is covered in the title, of course). 1. Every company's culture is unique. If you are setting culture, do not blindly copy. 2. Create rules that are shocking - so that the values stick and makes people think. 3. Walk the talk - don't just talk about culture but put it in practice. Action defines culture. 4. Look through the eyes of the newcomer. 5. Decision making - let everyone have input, but make final decision yourself. 6. Trust and Loyalty - universal values for culture.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Srirang Ranjalkar

    What you do is who you are is a nice book about creating a winning culture. However, in chapters 4, 5 & 6 Ben focuses more on the lives of Shaka Senghor and Genghis Khan than on the core subject - how to create your business culture. I picked up the book to read about how cultures of different companies evolved and what decisions helped them build that culture, not to know about the lives of Shaka Senghor and Genghis Khan. Their lives may be exceptional, no doubt about it. But having read Ben's What you do is who you are is a nice book about creating a winning culture. However, in chapters 4, 5 & 6 Ben focuses more on the lives of Shaka Senghor and Genghis Khan than on the core subject - how to create your business culture. I picked up the book to read about how cultures of different companies evolved and what decisions helped them build that culture, not to know about the lives of Shaka Senghor and Genghis Khan. Their lives may be exceptional, no doubt about it. But having read Ben's blogs my expectations were set on learning about different cultures. Albeit, if you skim chapters 4, 5 & 6, you'll find that it's a good book. But if I compare it with The Hard Thing About Hard Things, it's not that great. But still I'm going with a 3/5 because some elements of it were very insightful.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Tollemache

    A really strong follow up by Horowitz to his 2014 book, "The Hard ThingAbout Hard Things" in which he tries to explain how companies can build the ever desireable "strong culture" by using a series of historical analogies such as Toussaint Overture, Genghis Khan and Shaka Sendor (prison gang leader). Horowitz does a great job using these historical examples coupled with modern business case studies to illustrate his points. He also couples this analysis with a strong emphasis that quality corpo A really strong follow up by Horowitz to his 2014 book, "The Hard ThingAbout Hard Things" in which he tries to explain how companies can build the ever desireable "strong culture" by using a series of historical analogies such as Toussaint Overture, Genghis Khan and Shaka Sendor (prison gang leader). Horowitz does a great job using these historical examples coupled with modern business case studies to illustrate his points. He also couples this analysis with a strong emphasis that quality corporate culture can only carry a company so far. If the product or the overal strategy is flawed than an amazing corp culture will not fix that.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Vinayak Hegde

    Let me start my review by saying that this book is not like "The hard thing about hard things". So it felt quite disappointing. Maybe my expectations were quite high. The book looks at historical figures and then analyses how they fostered cultures. I felt that most of the examples that were taken were from people from violent or military backgrounds whether it was the prison inmate gang leader Shaka Senghor or Genghis Khan or Japan's military elite - the Samurai or Haiti's slave rebellion. I th Let me start my review by saying that this book is not like "The hard thing about hard things". So it felt quite disappointing. Maybe my expectations were quite high. The book looks at historical figures and then analyses how they fostered cultures. I felt that most of the examples that were taken were from people from violent or military backgrounds whether it was the prison inmate gang leader Shaka Senghor or Genghis Khan or Japan's military elite - the Samurai or Haiti's slave rebellion. I think there can be better examples of cultures that do not value violence so much. The book gives a lot of contradictory advice when looking at historical figures. For example, there are many examples where Genghis Khan (expected loyalty but also executed some of his own loyal soldiers) and Haiti slave leader Toussaint Louverture (had illegitimate children but asked his soldiers to strictly follow their marriage vows) did not follow their own advice and the author says as much. But one of the principles of the book that runs through is to follow your own principles and advice. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I think there are also quite a few examples of cherrypicking in the book that quickly come apart when you delve into the details. Obviously it was done to make the narrative coherent. That said there were sections of the book that I really liked. These were the sections where the author quotes from his own personal experience and was very useful. I think the book would have benefited more from these. But it was like searching for diamonds in the rough. Many of the insights and the good parts of the book can be summarised in one long blog post. Probably a one-time fast read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Roshni Bhattacharya

    If you feel stuck in your life career wise and wonder how to improve your surroundings, this is definitely your pick. One might not agree with all that is being said in this, BUT you'll have to stop for a while to admit how Ben took examples from ancient history and made them relevant in the present world. Adopting a samurai's culture probably would help you survive your team at your tech start-up. It is all up to you. He uses the examples of Genghis Khan and Louverture and Shaka Senghor as well If you feel stuck in your life career wise and wonder how to improve your surroundings, this is definitely your pick. One might not agree with all that is being said in this, BUT you'll have to stop for a while to admit how Ben took examples from ancient history and made them relevant in the present world. Adopting a samurai's culture probably would help you survive your team at your tech start-up. It is all up to you. He uses the examples of Genghis Khan and Louverture and Shaka Senghor as well to explain how they were able to achieve the impossible by cultivating a culture that nobody could deny. What you say does not matter but what you do is who you are.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Excellent analysis on the subtle points of organizations’ cultures. Showcasing the techniques used by Toussaint Louverture, Genghis Khan, samurai, and Shaka Senghor to manage their troops/squads is innovative. The most important point I take away is simply the name of the book - what you do is who you are. There’s no perfect culture, but the goal is to be better than you were yesterday. Cultures tend to reflect the values of the leaders, so leaders need to be aware of it and make every effort to Excellent analysis on the subtle points of organizations’ cultures. Showcasing the techniques used by Toussaint Louverture, Genghis Khan, samurai, and Shaka Senghor to manage their troops/squads is innovative. The most important point I take away is simply the name of the book - what you do is who you are. There’s no perfect culture, but the goal is to be better than you were yesterday. Cultures tend to reflect the values of the leaders, so leaders need to be aware of it and make every effort to ensure they are walking the talk (i.e. making them virtues through actions), instead of simply talking about the values that are merely beliefs.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Bruun

    Having read The Hars Thing About Hard Things multiple times, I had such high hopes for this book.i must say I was disappointed. The book is much more descriptive than prescriptive and action oriented (as I would have expected from an entrepreneur and VC). Also, it is close to become a cliche of a classic "airport business book" in its use of examples from historical figures. Disappointed. This could have been so much better and useful. Having read The Hars Thing About Hard Things multiple times, I had such high hopes for this book.i must say I was disappointed. The book is much more descriptive than prescriptive and action oriented (as I would have expected from an entrepreneur and VC). Also, it is close to become a cliche of a classic "airport business book" in its use of examples from historical figures. Disappointed. This could have been so much better and useful.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gabit

    What you read is what you do, and what you do is who you are. Therefore, it is important to approach this book carefully so that it can have a positive influence on you and your company. Implementing some of these lessons without the requisite level of experience and maturity can go bad. No need to blindly follow what the book prescribes. What it does prescribe, however, is a great recipe for sustainable and successful partnership and leadership. Highly recommended.

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